The good news for our Prime Minister is that his guiding philosophy appears to have exerted a considerable influence on the authors of the latest appraisal of Australia’s defence needs, acquisitions and vision. We know that because “agile”, recently Mr Turnbull’s favourite word, is used sixteen times in the 2016 Defence White Paper. The word “agility” is used eight times. All is agile, with new and improved extra agility! Let’s see what can be discerned from the document.
On page 67 it is says, “Australia is fortunate to be part of the most dynamic region in the world.” This is a childish way of looking at the intersection of geography and economics. The only benefit to Australia in sitting off the southeast corner of Asia is that shipping our iron ore to Asia is somewhat cheaper than the transport overhead the Brazilians must pay. There is no other benefit. Shipping is so cheap these days that Finland would only have a slight disadvantage, relative to Australia, in accessing Asian markets. Arguably, we would be even better off another thousand kilometres to the east in the Pacific, beyond the range of enemy aircraft.
On page 91, “The acquisition of the 12 future submarines will commence in 2016 with the first submarines likely to begin entering service in the early 2030s.” That will be about two decades too late. The Collins Class submarines are junk that need to be replaced as soon as possible. The Soryu Class is the only option that can do that. Add an eight-metre section to the hull for the extra fuel and an Australianised version will be ready to go. The White Paper budgets more than $50 billion for the design and construction of 12 new submarines. That works out to $4.2 billion each. In the 2015 Japanese defence budget, the 11th vessel in the Soryu Class program was budgeted at US$537 million, currently equating to $756 million. So we are setting out to pay 5.5 times the cost of something very similar? Something isn’t right.
On page 96, “New medium-range ground-based air defence weapons will be acquired in the mid to late 2020s.” This will fill a big hole in our defence structure, but about a decade late. Currently, we can see aircraft coming from over 1,000 km away (at least at night) but can’t engage them until they are 8 km away. A good candidate for this capability is MBDA’s MEADS system which has eight times the protective footprint of the Patriot system. Also on page 96, “This will include acquisition of new deployable land-based anti-ship missiles.” This is also a good idea which will enable us to start picking off enemy ships more than 1,000 km from the coast with anti-ship cruise missiles.
On page 98, “The Government will enhance Army’s firepower with a new long-range rocket system in the mid-2020s to complement Army’s existing artillery capability. The new system will be capable of providing fire support to defeat threats to our personnel at ranges of up to 300 kilometres.” The 300 km range mentioned is the same as that of the ATACMS produced by Lockheed Martin. No doubt we will get their shorter-ranged HIMARS system as well. This is a very necessary development. As shown by Russian operations in Ukraine, modern land warfare has evolved to detecting enemy troop concentrations by UAVs and then hitting them immediately with GPS-guided rocket munitions. The Russians have settled on using top-attack munitions to destroy armoured vehicles and thermobaric warheads to kill troops. This video shows the use of both of these weapon types.
Also on page 98, “The Government will replace the 22 Tiger Armed Reconnaissance helicopters”. The Tiger, produced by Airbus, was a John Howard special. He chose it instead of the Apache recommended by the Army. It is almost useless due to low availability. The sooner we replace it with the Apache, the better.
On page 99, “The Government will further invest in enhancements to the ADF’s amphibious capability, including to the sensors, countermeasures and weapons on board the Canberra Class ships.” The Canberra Class ships are effectively unarmed – 20,000 tonnes of steel with just two 25 mm remote weapon stations. It would take the rest of the surface fleet to provide air defence for our two Canberra Class vessels. At the moment they are only good for operating against unarmed South Pacific nations. A couple of Phalanx systems would be good for a last line of air defence. To support troops that have been landed, several HIMARS systems would provide artillery support out to 70 km from the ships using GPS-guided 227 mm rockets.
On page 107, “In the longer-term, the Government will investigate options to enable the ADF to undertake combat search and rescue tasks more speedily and at longer range.” The ADF has been turning into a search-and-rescue organisation commanded by social justice warriors, but without much ability to do actual search and rescue.
If a pilot were to be downed 300 km from the Kimberly coast, for example, it might possibly take a couple of days to get to him with a patrol boat dispatched from Darwin, allowing that one is available. In any war, we are going to have a high death rate from ships sunk and planes shot down because we have no way tof expeditiously collect the survivors. The short-term solution is to acquire some Grumman Albatrosses currently in storage in Arizona. The longer-term solution, with longer range, is to add a few US-2 made by ShinMaywa in Japan.
Now we get to the meat. On page 121 is the statement: “The ANZUS Treaty recognises that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on Australia or the United States would be dangerous to both countries and obliges each country to act to meet the common danger.” It seems that Mr Turnbull has forgotten all about the Thucydides Trap that concerned him last year. All the while, Australia aims to get defence expenditure to 2% of GDP while the United States does it at 3.5%. No mention either from the Foreign Minister about why the United States should make room for a rising power. It seems that the Prime Minister has had a come-to-Jesus moment with respect to defence, explaining his comment in January that “there are many more urgent issues confronting Australia” than becoming a republic. In fact there is a little tone of panic in the 2016 Defence White Paper.
Of course it wouldn’t be an ADF document without mention of climate change, the danger of rising sea levels and gender whackiness. So on page 137 there is the statement: “The National Action Plan sets out what Australia will do, at home and overseas, to integrate a gender perspective into its peace and security efforts.” The ADF need not worry its pretty head about such things. China will be an equal opportunity killer – men and boys, women and girls, people who don’t know what they are, armed and unarmed – all grist to the mill. Just take a look at this video of the Chinese slaughter of unarmed Vietnamese on South Johnson Reef in 1988. China has recently taken to abducting critics from neighbouring countries, so Beijing’s morality hasn’t improved in the last 30 years.
David Archibald is the author of Australia’s Defence (Connor Court).